The Los Angeles Times leads with word that Chinese Communist party official Hu Jintao took over from Jiang Zemin as leader of the Communist Party. Hu and the eight members of his ruling council were selected in secrecy by a small group. Hu promised to continue Jiang Zemin's policies, one of which is fostering good relations with the United States. USA Today leads with news that the United States and Iran are sending out "preliminary feelers" on how they might cooperate were the U.S. to attack Iraq. Talks, via Arab intermediaries, are centered on how to deal with air or naval military emergencies in the Persian Gulf region. Iran is also willing to allow a group of Iraqi Shiite Muslims in Tehran to help the United States overthrow Saddam, according to diplomats in Tehran. The Washington Post lead announces that the House passed a terrorism insurance bill that will provide the insurance industry with up to $100 billion over three years to help cover claims from future terrorist attacks. Sen. Tom Daschle plans to have the Senate act quickly on the House measure, and the LAT, which fronts the story, says it is expected to pass there too. The New York Times leads with a local story on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to rescue NYC from its fiscal crisis by raising taxes and reducing the police force, closing fire companies, cutting back on day-care services, and closing centers for the elderly.
The WP lead tallies up more of yesterday's legislative winners and losers. The House voted for a five-week extension of unemployment benefits for workers who've lost their jobs, and the Senate passed a bill that would extend unemployment benefits through March. The Senate and White House also settled on legislation to create a commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The LAT adds that the House and Senate passed bills to make seaports more secure.
The papers catch late-breaking news that the House passed a bill early Friday that makes it harder for people to declare bankruptcy. The Senate is expected to pass the legislation, says the LAT, citing "congressional sources." No, it's not, says the WP, citing House members who weren't happy with the way the Republican leadership maneuvered the legislation. The bill was voted down on Thursday afternoon because of a provision it contained that restricted anti-abortion activists from using bankruptcy as an excuse not to pay fines incurred by protesting. The bill was revived and passed after that provision was dropped.
The WP offleads news that the state of Virginia executed Pakistani Mir Aimal Kasi, the man who killed two CIA employees outside CIA headquarters in 1993. He said he shot the men to protest U.S. policies toward Muslims. He was never linked to a terrorist group. American officials have warned his execution could encourage retaliatory attacks against U.S. targets.
The LAT offlead, fronted by the NYT, says that President Bush plans to make up to 850,000 jobs, or half the federal civilian work force, open to bids from private contractors. Administration officials say the idea is to save money. According to the LAT, every type of job would be up for privatization. The move does not require congressional approval.
According to the WP front, officials in Britain, Germany, and France have issued several terrorism warnings in the last two weeks. Europeans are especially worried about an al-Qaida weapons of mass destruction attack against European targets. The concern over a WMD attack seems to be due to the fact that a Jordanian al-Qaida leader with toxin training appears to have sneaked a poisonous substance of some sort into Turkey.
The LAT fronts a push by hawks in the administration to declare Iraqi attempts to shoot down planes in no-fly zones a "material breach" of the U.N. rules for Iraq and thus a justification for war. What exactly would constitute a "material breach" is being debated in the administration and in the U.N. Security Council. Inside the WP are conservatives' complaints that an uncooperative Saddam could turn arms inspections in Iraq into a joke. Fiddling around with unsuccessful arms inspections would delay, and make more difficult, solving the problems Iraq is causing, conservatives argue.
In a front page piece airing recent Democratic criticism of the war on terror (one example: Daschle said that the war on terror hasn't been that successful because we haven't found Bin Laden or other key elements of al-Qaida), the NYT emphasizes an FBI warning to law enforcement, issued on Wednesday, that "sources suggest al-Qaida may favor spectacular attacks" for its next moves.
House Democrats officially picked California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as their leader, the papers report.
The WP front reports that life has gotten more difficult for "railfans," the "perhaps millions" of Americans who spend their days off watching trains pass by while they take notes and photographs. Problem is, terrorists do that too, and since the U.S. got word of al-Qaida's possible interest in attacking trains, railfans are being questioned by law enforcement and asked to sign documents saying they won't return to favored train-watching haunts. As a result, railfans are resorting to "guerrilla railfanning" where they keep undercover and on the move as they sneak photos of trains.